Is It Fruitcake Weather in Your World?

Every time I think of fruitcake I think of that line in Truman Capote’s short story “A Christmas Memory,” in which the author’s dear aunt Sook proclaims, “it’s fruitcake weather.” And whatever the weather in your area, now’s the time to get started so the cake will have plenty of time to ripen and age before the New Year.

Sadly, fruitcake has gotten a bad rap. Here is a wonderful version that eschews all of that artificially-colored supermarket candied fruit. (You know what I mean.) But if you swap out that ghastly fruit with an array of beautiful dried fruits chopped into bite-sized pieces, add some walnuts, and create a spiced pound cake batter the word fruitcake will only conjure up deliciousness in every bite. Tea enters the picture via the marinade/soaking liquid which is a mixture of brewed tea and good cognac.

Pile of colorful dried fruits.

A slightly smoky tea such as Keemun or another variety that is rich, bold, and well-rounded in flavor will work just as well here. Feel free to substitute any dried fruits that you like—dried figs are great here and may stand in for the dried cherries or prunes if you prefer. Or you can double up on one fruit and leave another out. It’s a mix and match affair with no hard and fast rules. This one will make you a fruitcake lover.

Tea-Cognac Marinade

  • 1 quart strongly brewed tea of your choice
  • ½ c. Cognac, if using

The Fruits

  • 4 ozs prunes, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 4 ozs dried apricots, but into bite-sized pieces
  • 4 ozs dates, pitted, and cut into small pieces
  • 4 ozs golden raisins
  • 4 ozs dried cherries

The Cake Batter

  • 8 ozs (approximately 1-3/4 cups) all-purpose flour
  • 2 t. baking powder
  • 1 t. ground cinnamon
  • ½ t. nutmeg
  • 1 t. ground ginger
  • 1 t. salt
  • 8 ozs (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 8 ozs (1-1/2 cups, not packed) brown sugar
  • 8 ozs whole eggs (approximately 5 large eggs)

    Optional Addition

    • 4 ozs (a scant cup) walnuts, roughly chopped
    Fruitcake with one slice next to it, on a wooden board on a counter next to a sprig of pine and some red berries.

    Instructions

    1. First, make the marinade and then soak the chopped up fruits in it for at least a day and up to one week in advance of preparing the cake batter.
    2. Once the fruits are marinated, now preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Position the baking rack halfway up from the bottom of the oven. 
    3. Make the marinade and set aside.
    4. Butter two 8 x 4-inch loaf pans. Then line the bottom and sides of the pans with baking parchment.
    5. Sift the flour, baking powder, salt, and spices into a bowl and set aside. 
    6. In the bowl of an electric mixer outfitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter until almost white in color, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl as you mix. Add the sugar next, beating until well blended, again scraping the bowl as you go. Add the eggs, one by one, mixing until absorbed before adding the next one. Scrape the bowl well at this point. Add the fruits, drained (save the marinade to pour over the cake when it comes out of the oven) and walnuts, if using, and then finally the dry ingredients, mixing only until the dry ingredients disappear into the mix.
    7. Divide the mixture equally into the two prepared pans. Bake for about 45-55 minutes, or until a wooden or metal stick comes out clean when inserted into the center of the cakes. When done, the interior of the cakes should register 200 degrees F. when tested. Don’t worry if the baking time varies from what is stated (all ovens are different with different hot and cooler spots). It’s important that the cakes test done—whether it takes 60 minutes or more.
    8. When the cakes are removed from the oven, pour half of the tea-brandy marinade over them. Let cool and then pour remaining tea-brand marinade over cake and then wrap tightly in heavy duty plastic wrap and then foil. Keep at room temperature for a few days (beyond that, refrigerate the cakes). To serve, cut into thin slices and have a pot of your favorite tea at the ready to enjoy with the cake.